NASA is using Geographic Information Systems technology that may help save the planet. New spacecraft observations and data are giving scientists improved insight into the development of solar storms that damage satellites, communications and cause power grid failures.
The solar storms or Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are being observed from NASA’s twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, spacecraft launched in 2006. New images from STEREO-A spacecraft, which was 65-million miles away, show detailed features in a large Earth-directed CME in late 2008. The storm connects the original magnetized structure in the sun’s corona to the intricate anatomy of the interplanetary storm as it hit the planet three days later, NASA says. When the data was collected, the spacecraft was more than 65 million miles away from Earth.
“Separating these faint signals from the star field behind them proved especially challenging, but it paid off,” said Craig DeForest, scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of an online Astrophysical Journal article. “We have been drawing pictures of structures like these for several decades. Now that we can see them so far from the sun, we find there is still a lot to learn.”
Antarctic Ice Flow
NASA also recently used GIS technology to map the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica. This shows glaciers flowing thousands of miles from the continent’s deep interior to its coast and will be critical for tracking future sea-level increases from climate change, according to NASA.
The team created the map using integrated radar observations from a consortium of international satellites. “This is like seeing a map of all the oceans’ currents for the first time. It’s a game changer for glaciology,” said Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California (UC), Irvine. Rignot is lead author of a paper about the ice flow published online Thursday in Science Express. “We are seeing amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been described before.”
Scientists used billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites to weed out cloud cover, solar glare and land features masking the glaciers. With the aid of NASA technology, the team linked the shape and velocity of glacial formations, including the previously uncharted East Antarctica, which comprises 77 percent of the continent.
NASA says scientists discovered a new ridge splitting the 5.4 million-square-mile landmass from east to west.
“The map points out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by slipping along the ground it rests on,” said Thomas Wagner, NASA’s cryospheric program scientist in Washington. “That’s critical knowledge for predicting future sea level rise. It means that if we lose ice at the coasts from the warming ocean, we open the tap to massive amounts of ice in the interior.”
In both findings the specifics of the software used were not released. But in November 2010, NASA entered an enterprise license agreement with Esri, making ArcGIS software tools available for unlimited use by authorized NASA employees and contractors.
“GIS increases our understanding of the world around us through the visualization of information,” said Stennis Space Center environmental GIS lead Kelly Boyd.